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Options weighed on spending $1.1 million for public schools

Covid-19 image
'Big ideas' include communication, student access, extended learbning time.

UPDATED, Sept. 20: How to use federal funding to make up for learning loss over the past 18 months of the ongoing pandemic is a key question for the School Committee over the next few weeks.  

School Committee logo

At the most recent committee meeting, on Sept. 9, the Arlington Public Schools administration presented three broad options for the money -- $1,133,653, or just a bit more than $1.1 million – that can be spent over the next three years, from now through Sept. 30, 2024.

Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Homan characterized the influx of cash from the American Rescue Plan (Public Law 117-2) as a small addition to the overall budget. Committee member Jane Morgan put it into perspective as being comparable to the current cost of a high-end single-family home in the town.

Factors to consider

Homan suggested that the committee consider such factors as: 

  • The still-embargoed results of standardized testing of students in grades three through 12 in April through June, though numbers probably will not be available by Thursday Sept. 23, the next committee meeting;
  • Ongoing input from the committee’s budget subcommittee; 
  • The long-range budget plan of the teachers' union, the Arlington Education Association; 
  • The past year’s “Panorama Surveys” of local parents showing that “only” 53 percent consider past district communications “helpful,” and that “only” 38 percent feel confident that local educators are capable of honest/productive conversations about race. [Note: In both cases in the preceding, the word "only" was used in an administration presentation.]

In a later email to YourArlington, Homan said that results of the annual standardized testing under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, are routinely embargoed by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,or DESE. She said Arlington’s figures would be described in detail at the School Committee meeting on Oct. 14 and that basic information would be made available online earlier than that.

'Big ideas'

At the Sept. 9 meeting, she asked members for feedback on the following three “big ideas” so that she could prepare more detailed plans on how to possibly allocate the federal money:

  • Initiative Option A: improving communications/outreach from the district to public-school families;
  • Initiative Option B: ensuring student access to consistent and equitable instruction; and
  • Initiative Option C: providing extended learning time.

“We think all of these are important,” Homan told the committee, adding that the district would “need to prioritize.”

She gave preliminary examples of each. For instance, to meet Option A, the district could create a Family Welcome and Resource Center. Option B might include curriculum coaches and interventionists to give more attention to students who need extra help, including those with an individual education plan, or IEP, and those who are English language learners, or ELL. To fulfill Option C would possibly mean, among other possibilities, summer school at least comparable to what was made available over the past two summers.

Teachers union president Julianna Keyes, asked for her input, stated a strong preference, advocating for Option B’s increased coaching/intervention. About Option A’s improved communication, she said that the district should be doing that already, and that Option C -- more education time outside of regular class hours – probably was unfeasible given the district’s historic difficulty of staffing summer school classes.

Here is a link to the survey >>

Here is a link to the options discussed >>

In other business Sept. 9

The committee voted unanimously to table the consent agenda – noncontroversial spending matters that rarely provoke discussion -- because its details were not made available online to the public before the meeting.

The administration reported that Louisa Popkin is the district’s new elementary special-education coordinator.

Administrators also stated that the district has 209 more students than on Oct. 1, 2020.

Three items of note about the pandemic were described by the administration:

  • Any Massachusetts public-school district must contact DESE before considering closing a classroom, grade or campus because of Covid-19 infection;
  • All districts must report any positive Covid-19 results to DESE;
  • Arlington Public Schools now has a “dashboard” on its website that is to be updated weekly with local pandemic data

Also, as previously reported by YourArlington https://www.yourarlington.com/arlington-archives/town-school/schools/19374-mandate-091021

at the Sept. 9 meeting, the committee unanimously approved a memorandum of agreement with the teachers' union that its members must either be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested for it weekly if they have previously provided acceptable documentation of medical and/or religious exemption. The district says that at least 97 percent of on-campus staffers are vaccinated.

This requirement applies equally to administrators and also to other nonteaching staff. 

This decision was announced immediately after a closed-to-the-public session of the committee. The session took place at the beginning of the Sept. 9 meeting – somewhat unusual timing, as such closed sessions usually are held at the end of a committee meeting. 

Watch the Sept. 9 meeting broadcast by ACMi:


Sept. 10, 2021: Accord with teachers' union requiring vaccinations approved 

 


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. It was updated Sept. 20, to clarify editor's note and to add links.

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